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Dec. 29th, 2017

A Look Back at 2017

We are putting another year to bed, a new year about to begin. As is my way, I want to look back at 2017 and take a trip down memory lane, specifically the events pertaining to my life as a writer.

It has been a good year for writing. I spent the majority of the year on two larger projects. I started the year working on the novella THE UNHOLY EUCHARIST, my first major vampire project since I started publishing professionally. I took the kernel of an idea I’d had back in my youth, my college years, and twisted it around to create my own brand of vampire with their own hopefully unique origin story. I span several time periods in the story, and I had a lot of fun doing the research. I didn’t do a bunch of research beforehand; I did the research as I went along. I would start a new section in a new time period, then I’d do the necessary research for that part, write it, then move on to the next time period and start the research again. The novella came out just shy of novel-length, and I put it with two other novellas—KRONOZ and THE PRICE OF SUCCESS (written with my friend Shane Nelson)—and sent the collection off to a publisher.

My other large project for the year was the novel 324 ABERCORN. This was an idea I had years ago, and at one point I had started writing it, getting a few chapters in and putting it aside for reasons I don’t entirely remember anymore. I dove back in and spent the last half of the year finishing it. I had a blast, and I fell in love with my characters a little bit, which is always the ideal for a writer. At a certain point, I was thinking this would be a novella and would be part of the novella collection, but it grew and became a novel in its own right. I finished this novel recently, earlier in December, and I sent it to a publisher for consideration as well.

As always, I also wrote several short stories throughout the year. Since I started publishing, I’ve begun to focus more on longer works (novellas and novels), but short stories remain my first and truest love and I will never stop writing them.

It was also a good year for publishing. I started out the year with the February release of my novel THE CULT OF OCASTA through Evil Jester Press. This book is a sequel to my earlier novel THE QUARRY, and I think is a more complex and deeper story. I also used it as a swan song to my favorite location for my fiction, Limestone College. OCASTA felt like a culmination of all the different Limestone stories I’d told, so it felt right to make it, as the subtitle suggests, The Final Limestone Story. I’m very proud of this novel and was so happy to see it out in the world.



At the beginning of October, my novella #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain was published as the longest piece in the digital collection HALLOWEEN CARNIVAL VOL. I, released through Random House’s imprint Hydra. It appeared along with stories by Lisa Morton, John R. Little, Kevin Lucia, and one of my idols Robert McCammon. I can’t tell you what a thrill that was! Editor Brian Freeman did a great job, and the collection did very well. Probably the most feedback I’ve ever gotten for a work.



Between these releases, August saw the rerelease of two of my older titles. First Apex Publishing decided to put out a new edition of my zombie novella ASYLUM. The book got a gorgeous new cover, and I even penned a follow-up short story (“Lunatics Running the Asylum”) that was included in the new edition. At the same time, Etopia decided to give my time-travel romance novel THE EXCHANGE STUDENT a facelift. It too got a beautiful new cover and reentered the world.




In addition to these projects, I had a handful of short stories appear in various anthologies and magazines. At the very beginning of the year, my story “Take Me to Your Cheerleader” appeared in the anthology DREAD STATE, edited by Eugene Johnson and Michael Paul Gonzalez and released through Thunderdome Press. The big thrill there is I appeared alongside a reprint from Ray Bradbury. In April, Things in the Well released the anthology BETWEEN THE TRACKS, edited by Steve Dillion, and featured my short story “The Toll.” October featured three appearances: “The Basement Apartment” in Things in the Well’s BENEATH THE STAIRS, the poem “Halloween Carnival” in Dillion’s Halloween magazine TRICKSTER’S TREATS, and “A Rain of Autumn Leaves” in the Unnerving Press chapbook ALLIGATORS IN THE SEWERS.

This year I also started writing a sporadic book column for THE CHEROKEE CHRONICLE in Gaffney, SC, my hometown. I have such a love of all things books, and growing up in Gaffney I didn't exactly feel that I was surrounded by like-minded individuals, so I thought this would be a good service to the community for other book lovers in town.

I hosted a few events this year as well. In February, I held a writer’s workshop for Greer Relief, as part of their program where clients who use their services take classes in exchange for vouchers for food and clothing. In March, I hosted a campus-wide scavenger hunt at Limestone College where I also did a talk and book-signing for the students who participated. In September I hosted another literary scavenger hunt at Joe’s Place, which served as a fundraiser for the Greenville Literacy Association, and it was probably my most successful event to date and earned a nice chunk of change for the GLA. Finally in October, my friend and fellow writer James Newman and I cohosted a horror discussion panel at the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg. I made a few appearances on WYFF, the local NBC affiliate, to promote some of these events.




It has been a good and productive year, and as always I got through it with my husband Craig Metcalf by my side. His support and encouragement makes all the professional progress possible. We celebrated our first anniversary this year, and it’s the first of many more to come.



I look forward to the challenges and opportunities 2018 presents, and I will continue to write and publish and live my dream.

Oct. 18th, 2017

Origin Stories: Halloween House of Horrors

It seems appropriate at this time of year that the next title I’ll feature in my Origin Stories series is the collection HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS.



The journey to publication for this book was simpler than most. In fact, this was one of the rare instances where the publisher approached me. Philip Perron runs Great Old Ones Publishing, and I had met him several years prior when he was kind enough to interview me on his podcast when I was promoting some of my other titles.

In October of 2014, Philip sent me a message, asking if I had any unpublished novels that might be a fit for Great Old Ones. I did not, but as a voracious short story writer, I knew I had more than enough for a collection. I inquired as to whether or not he’d be interested in a collection, and he said yes.

I immediately began going through my stories, picking out a table of contents. At the time, I was writing a few Halloween short stories because every October I dedicate to the writing of Halloween-themed stories. Because of this, I have dozens of such tales, and I suddenly realized I could do another collection of just Halloween stories.

Several years before I had published DARK TREATS, which contained five Halloween short stories, but I knew that with this one I could have a lot more. I was even inspired to do a wrap-around story, a framework to sort of tie everything together.

I contacted Phil again and asked if he’d be interested in a Halloween collection. I mentioned I had a lot of stories and not all of them were horror. Some were more dramatic, and even one was a children’s story. He said he’d love to go that route, he only asked I not include any that were strictly comedic. That eliminated only two of the stories I was considering.

So I put together 19 stories, and I had just as much fun creating the wrap around story to weave around the tales, and submitted it to Philip. The collection was released the following October with a cool autumnal cover, and I couldn’t be prouder.

HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Halloween-House-Horrors-Mark-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B016C4GBS2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508368671&sr=1-10

Oct. 8th, 2017

'TIS THE SEASON

It may come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I am an absolute nut for Halloween. As a lifelong horror fan, it has always been my favorite holiday, the one time of year that my interest in the macabre is not looked down upon by the world at large but actually celebrated!

For that reason, I have written a lot of Halloween-themed fiction. It has pretty much been a tradition of mine for over a decade to write Halloween stories over the month of October. So far this year I've already written one, "Halloween Homecoming," and have another one planned I'll call "The Bloody Fountain."

Because of this tradition I have what might be considered an inordinate number of Halloween books on them market (not as many as Al Sarrantonio maybe, but still a lot). I figure it 'tis the season, so I'll post about each one, giving a little info.



Just this past week I released my serial killer novella #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain as part of the anthology HALLOWEEN CARNIVAL VOL. I, released through Random House's digital imprint Hydra (down the road it will be a Cemetery Dance hardcover as well). I had such fun writing this one, setting it in Greer, SC, the town in which I currently live. I wanted to write something exciting and fun and full of my love of horror and Halloween. And the fact that the novella appears in a collection with stories by authors I really respect, including one of my favorite storytellers Robert McCammon, makes it all the more thrilling. (https://www.amazon.com/Halloween-Carnival-1-Robert-McCammon-ebook/dp/B01NAR7R4W/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507468698&sr=1-1)



A few years ago Great Old Ones Press released a 19 story collection of mine called HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS. I put together an eclectic mix of my Halloween fiction. The oldest story dates back to 1998, and the most recent to 2014. A lot of horror (supernatural and supernatural), but also some non-horror stories that are more dramatic and emotional, as well as one children's story. Some of the stories are long, others are flash pieces of less than 1000 words. What they have in common is that they all contain my love of the holiday. (https://www.amazon.com/Halloween-House-Horrors-Mark-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B016C4GBS2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507468698&sr=1-3)



Bad Moon Books originally put out my novella OCTOBER ROSES (it is now available through Crossraod Press). This one is set at Limestone College, my alma mater and the setting for a lot of my fiction. I had fun utilizing the campus while also crafting a story of a long-dead serial killer possibly possessing a student and making her kill while she slept. I also had my main character from THE QUARRY pop in for a cameo appearance, and then when I wrote THE CULT OF OCASTA (a sequel to THE QUARRY), some of the characters from OCTOBER ROSES got to appear in that one. It's a quick, fast-paced novella that I am very proud of. (https://www.amazon.com/October-Roses-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00A2ET2N0/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_48?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507469849&sr=1-48&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q)



My first Halloween book was the collection DARK TREATS (released originally from Sideshow Press then later from Gallows Press). This is a short collection, just five stories, but I felt they all offered something different on the theme of Halloween. One of them, "Halloween Returns to Bradbury," is one of my favorite pieces of my short fiction. I remember the joy of its release, knowing that I finally had a book out that celebrated my favorite holiday of the year! (https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Treats-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00EUIFBM0/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_49?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507470151&sr=1-49&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q)

So there you have it...for now. I'm still writing Halloween stories every year, which means I definitely feel that down the line there will be another collection in the works. It doesn't matter how old I get, I am always going to love Halloween and I will always celebrate that through my fiction.

Sep. 25th, 2017

My First Bookstores

I didn’t set foot in an actual bookstore until I was in my later teens.

I grew up in a town with no bookstore and I had no real access to transportation out of that town. I fed my voracious book habit primarily through the use of the public library, sometimes picking up books from the paperback rack in the Buford Street Drug Store or at Walmart.

However, when my best friend got her license and a car, we started tooling up Highway 29 to Spartanburg, SC, on a regular basis, and there I had my first taste of Heaven.

As we entered Spartanburg on 29, one of the first things we hit was the Hillcrest Mall, an indoor mall that contained among other stores a Waldenbooks. The mall was relatively small, and the bookstore itself was fairly small, but never having been inside an actual bookstore before, it seemed massive to me, the largest collection of books I’d ever seen outside a library.

To this day, I can remember that the register was to the right when you walked in, and often there would be little standup cardboard posters for upcoming releases next to it. I vividly recall walking in one day and seeing the poster for King’s GERALD’S GAME and being absolutely beside myself with excitement. In the pre-internet age, I actually never knew when my favorite writers had a new book coming out and certainly had no clue as to titles or covers. This opened up a whole new world.

I spent countless hours in that store, buying up Stephen King and Anne Rice and Dean Koontz. Anytime I had any extra money in my pocket, I wanted to get up to the Waldenbooks and scour the shelves for books to bring home. So many of the writers I’d fallen in love with had such extensive backlogs, I really had to strategize. Dozens of Stephen King books, for instance, but I may have just enough cash for one paperback. Which would it be?

Waldenbooks wasn’t the only piece of Heaven I found at the Hillcrest Mall, however. Attached to the indoor part was a strip-mall called “Specialty Row.” One of the shops in this area was an independent bookstore called Pic-A-Book.

In some ways I loved Pic-A-Book even more than the Waldenbooks. It had more character, more atmosphere. For one, it was kind of a mess. Books just stacked everywhere to the point that I often referred to it as “the Disorganized Bookstore.” But that mess made it feel more welcoming, in a strange way I can’t quite put into words. It was fun to rummage through, looking for buried treasure. When I first started going there, the New Releases section was in no actual order, they just put the new books up on the shelves as they came in. Eventually they did alphabetize them, but not by author name. Instead, by title. An odd system, but one with a certain quirky charm.

True, Pic-A-Book didn’t discount their books like Waldenbooks, but they made up for that in having a more diverse selection. I remember wanting to purchase a biography of Clive Barker, and it wasn’t available in any chain stores, but it was proudly on a display table at Pic-A-Book. Again, before the internet, this was very important.

Eventually Spartanburg got their first Barnes & Noble, and that seemed to drive all the smaller bookstores out of business. Actually all the stores in the Hillcrest Mall started going out of business, but Waldenbooks was one of the last ones remaining before it too folded and they tore down the outdoor part of the mall, making room for a Publix and Stein Mart. Specialty Row remained, and remains to this day, and Pic-A-Book held out against B&N for many commendable years, but eventually it took closed its doors.

I was sorry to see both these places gone, because they were my first foray into the world of bookstores and they held so many great memories for me. However, those memories cannot be destroyed and they still exist inside me, meaning that in some small way those bookstores still exist as well.

Aug. 9th, 2017

RETURNING TO THE ASYLUM

When Apex Publishing expressed interest in releasing a new edition of ASYLUM, Jason Sizemore said he would like to include some original content. He had suggested perhaps an author interview or something of the sort, but I countered with the idea of an original short story set in the universe of ASYLUM. Jason liked that idea very much. All great except…

I didn’t actually have an idea.

I loved the idea of returning to that universe I’d created. I’d done it once before with a semi-sequel called FORT. I say “semi-sequel” because other than a couple of flashbacks, FORT shares no characters or settings with ASYLUM, simply takes place during the same fictional zombie apocalypse. For this new story, I wanted something that was more directly related to the novella.



So I figured I needed new characters happening across the club and going inside. But who were these new characters? Other survivors looking for shelter? What would they find inside? What would be the meat of the story?

I mulled this over for a bit, trying to nail down some specifics. I began to consider that these new characters might be young men who were members of a civilian militia of sorts, roaming the city and killing as many zombies as possible. Once I had settled on these characters and began to develop their personalities, I turned my imagination to what they would find inside the club, how the events of the novella would impact this new story. I wanted something that would come as a surprise to the new characters, but also might surprise readers of the novella. I settled on “Lunatics Running the Asylum” as the title as it seemed apropos.

Once I had all that set in my mind, I dove into the writing, going back and rereading certain sections of ASYLUM to refresh my memory on events and details. I found the experience a great deal of fun, reentering that world after all this time.

Once the story was done, I turned it into Apex, worked with them on some edits, and they set about putting together the new edition of ASYLUM. I’m beyond thrilled that the novella is getting a new lease on life, and even more thrilled to offer up this new short story to readers.

Between ASYLUM, FORT, and “Lunatics Running the Asylum”, I have had a great deal of fun exploring the traditional zombie formula with my own spin, and while I have no plans to pen any further adventures set in this universe, I wouldn’t rule it out either.



ASYLUM can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Asylum-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B004GEAMOA/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502316640&sr=1-7

Aug. 7th, 2017

ENTERING THE ASYLUM

I was beyond ecstatic when Apex Publishing approached me about putting out a new edition of my novella ASYLUM. The book originally came out back in 2010, and it got a good bit of attention. Sold well, reviewed well, and I think more than any of my other releases, it’s the book I’m most associated with. Seven years later, I embraced the opportunity to try to breathe some new life into it. Apex has released it with a great new cover, and even commissioned a new short story set in that universe (about which I’ll be writing a separate entry) to go along with it.



To commemorate the new edition, I thought I’d pen a little blog about how ASYLUM came to be written in the first place.

The initial germ of an idea that would eventually become ASYLUM started in college when I visited my first gay clubs. I had nothing specific in mind, but the writer in me observed the layouts of these places, filing away architectural and design details as if I knew I might use them someday.

Shortly after I had graduated from college, I began musing about all the zombie films I saw that involved small bands of survivors trying to fight not only the undead but each other and their own worst impulses. I noted at the time that these various bands of survivors rarely ever included gay characters. That struck me as interesting. Was I supposed to assume we were the first ones killed? Where were the representations of the gay community in these stories?

That train of thought combined with my cataloguing of the layouts of the few gay clubs I’d been in, and the idea was born. I was thinking Night of the Living Dead, set in a gay club instead of a farmhouse, with a cast made up almost exclusively of gay characters.

I actually began the story back then, though at the time I was calling it NIGHT OWLS. However, I got only a few pages in and abandoned it. For a period of about five years after college, I fell away from writing because of the stress of my job and personal life. Therefore, most any project I started was eventually abandoned.

Only after I switched jobs and removed some of that stress from my life did I reconnect with the writer in me, and I began churning out fiction faster than I had since college. Eventually the idea for NIGHT OWLS resurfaced and I decided to give it another shot.

After retitling the story ASYLUM (which I thought was a more appropriate title with a nice double meaning), I looked at those few pages I had started years before. In the end, all I kept of that was the first sentence, which I thought was incredibly attention-grabbing. I combined elements from two gay clubs of my youth—Scorpios in Charlotte, NC, and The Cove in Spartanburg, SC—to create the club of my story.

I wrote quite a bit, almost reaching the end, then started to lose steam. Sometimes when I’m working on a novella or novel, I start to lose objectivity and that can lead to a loss of motivation. Usually I fight through it, but in this case I actually put the novella aside for almost a year. Eventually I pulled it out and looked over it, and found that I couldn’t even remember why I had stopped. It looked good to me, and I was so near the end I took a week or so to finish it off.

I ended up with a novella I was very proud of, but had trouble finding a home for. Many publishers thought zombies had been done to death (pardon the pun), other publishers were uncomfortable with the gay content of the piece. I even considered self-publishing.

Then Apex, which had started a zombie imprint called The Zombie Feed, put out an open call for submissions. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I sent in the manuscript and they accepted it relatively quickly. We did edits, they commissioned the original cover for it, and then ASYLUM was set loose on the world.



ASYLUM can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Asylum-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B004GEAMOA/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502029709&sr=1-5

Jul. 18th, 2017

Origin Stories: WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD

The next book I will talk about in my Origin Stories series is the collection WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD.



I have always been a lover of the short form. Short stories are in fact my greatest passion as a writer. When my husband Craig and I attended the South Carolina Book Festival one year, we attended a discussion panel on short fiction, and it really renewed my determination to have multiple short story collections on the market. I hadn't had one in a while so I decided I needed to do something about that.

I approached Evil Jester Press because they had published two of my novels (THE QUARRY and THE SUMMER OF WINTERS) and I had a great working relationship with my editor Pete Giglio. I wrote him an email about how much I believed in the short form, and I wanted very much to do a collection with EJP. He admitted they were a harder sell but encouraged me to submit a manuscript.

I put together what I felt was a strong and eclectic collection and sent it in. At first I was calling the collection TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT VOL. II as a throwback to my first collection, but that didn't feel right. However, I closed the collection with a long tale called "Welcome to the Graveyard" and that just felt very right.

I was thrilled when Pete told me they would publish it. It took a little over a year as Pete was preparing to leave Evil Jester to focus on his own writing. In fact, WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD was the last book he edited for the company.

The collection was released in the fall of 2014 with a gorgeous cover that Pete did himself. I was so ecstatic to have it out there, and I remain very proud of it. It is one of my more overlooked books, but I hope that people still discover it and enjoy it and will maybe consider leaving me some feedback.

WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Graveyard-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B00O32MOBE/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_22?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1500412430&sr=1-22&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q

Jun. 17th, 2017

Origin Stories: OUTCAST

Just now getting back to this series where I detail how my books became published. Now we come to my novel OUTCAST, published as part of the JournalStone Double Down series along with John R. Little's SECRETS.



This was a rare situation in that I had promise of publication before I wrote this novel. In fact, I had promise of publication before I even had an idea for the novel.

John Little, a talented writer and gracious gentleman, had contracted with JournalStone to be part of their Double Down series, and they have him leeway to pick any writer he wanted to provide the accompanying novel. He chose me.

I was thrilled, but also quite nervous. I didn't want to let him down. John came up with this notion that we would both use the same prologue but then write different stories based on that prologue. John penned the prologue, then we went off and each wrote our stories without consulting one another. I had no idea what he was working on, nor he I.

I struggled a bit with this one, but I ended up with a novel I'm very proud of and I think works on several levels. When John let me read his tale, I was surprised and delighted to see that we went in such different directions. I was honored to have my novel OUTCAST appearing with John's novella SECRETS.



JournalStone released the book in the summer of 2014 in a limited hardcover, as well as paperback and digital editions. It received some nice reviews, and I discovered that some considered my novel YA which had not been my intent but I could see how it might fit that category. It didn't gain as much traction as I had hoped, but I feel like I delivered a solid story.

You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Outcast-JournalStones-DoubleDown-Book-ebook/dp/B00MY1OIWE/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_23?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497719401&sr=1-23&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q

Mar. 26th, 2017

Origin Stories: LOCKED ROOM MISERY

The next book I will talk about in this series, in which I discuss how each of my books made it into publication, is the novella LOCKED ROOM MISERY which I co-wrote with Bram Stoker winning author Benjamin Kane Ethridge.



When Benjamin and I finished the story, we immediately started talking about places to submit. We'd both worked with a lot of great publishers, but the majority of those were not open to short novellas unless they were part of a larger collection. Therefore, our options were a bit more limited.

However, I had done a lot of work with Tom Moran, who ran Sideshow Press and after that Gallow's Press. He had put out a few novellas over the years, so I thought Gallow's would be a good place to try.

Tom read the novella, enjoyed it, and agreed to publish it. He even provided the very creepy and eye-catching cover. (Tom Moran has done more covers for me than any other artist, 8 altogether: A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, CREATURES OF THE LIGHT, TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT, DARK TREATS, GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC, SEQUEL, THE HUNT, and LOCKED ROOM MISERY.)

Quite a bit of time passed between the acceptance and the eventual publication of the novella. Gallow's Press was starting to wind down, and I believe that LOCKED ROOM MISERY ended up being the very last book they ever put out.

Because of this, publicity for the book was little to nothing. The novella garnered little attention, no major reviews, and at only one Amazon review is one of my least-reviewed books. It is admittedly a strange hybrid novel, a mystery with strong horror elements and an enigmatic ending that is a bit of a brain-twister. That doesn't appeal to all readers, but I still believe there's an audience out there for what we accomplished.

The experience working with Benjamin was a great one, and as with any collaboration I've ever done, I walked away learning something from him and feeling like a better writer because of our time together.



LOCKED ROOM MISERY can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Locked-Room-Misery-Benjamin-Ethridge-ebook/dp/B00L8BXD7W/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_39?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490536028&sr=1-39&refinements=p_82%3AB005C18L7Q

Mar. 19th, 2017

OH FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR

My first experience with horror occurred when I was maybe six or seven years old. They were airing The Exorcist on television and I heard my mother talking about it. I’m not sure why, but I felt compelled to watch it with her. Perhaps because she spoke about it in a hushed whisper, like it was something secret and shameful and unquestionably adult. I pestered and cajoled and whined until she finally agreed to let me watch. It was edited for television, so possibly she thought anything too traumatic would be cut out, but truthfully I grew up with very little restriction on what I watched or read.



I started the film with great excitement, and I made it about as far as Linda Blair floating above her bed before I literally cowered behind the sofa. At that point my mother sent me to bed. I won’t lie, even though the film frightened me that much, I was hesitant to go to bed and pretty much had to be forced.



Why? Am I a glutton for punishment? At the time, I doubt I could have articulated my feelings, but in retrospect I think I can put some of them into words. I had watched a lot of movies already at that young age, and while I enjoyed them, they had made no lasting impression on me. They were colorful diversions that came and went but didn’t really make an impact. With The Exorcist, that movie had impact! It made an impression, one that has stayed with me all my life. That’s powerful storytelling.

After that, I specifically sought out horror films, seeking that same powerful impact. Not all horror films gave it to me. Like any genre, there is good and bad to be found. However, I was rapidly becoming a horror addict. The Exorcist initially grabbed me by the balls and made me notice the genre, but what kept me coming back?

For most of my youth, I didn’t even ask that question. I just knew I liked it and that was enough for me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve given it a bit more thought. I’ve reached several conclusions.

First, and perhaps most obvious, horror is exciting. It gets the adrenaline pumping, it creates that delicious feeling of suspense, and it provides delightful jump scares that frighten you then leave you laughing at yourself. Even in the terror, there’s something fun in that.

Second, horror is a playground of the imagination. Literally anything is possible, there are no limits or taboos that can’t be broken. Humans, by our nature, are imaginative creatures, and horror can be a wonderful outlet for that.

Third, and perhaps most importantly for me, horror when done right is an exercise in empathy. I know, there was an article out a while back that suggested horror fans lacked empathy, but that has not been my experience at all. True horror, in my opinion, relies on empathy to work. As a watcher or a reader, I become invested in characters, grow to care about them, feel their joy and pain, put myself in their shoes…and thus when horrible things begin to happen to them, I actually feel something. It is my empathy for the characters that creates the suspense that is essential to effective horror. I wrote an essay about this very subject for Apex magazine: http://www.apex-magazine.com/how-horror-made-me-more-empathetic/

So yes, I freely and openly admit to being a horror fan. It’s not because I’m a twisted person or a masochist or that I lack empathy. I enjoy horror because I’m a person who appreciates imaginative fiction that builds suspense, and I recognize that well-done horror actually strengthens and encourages empathy for our fellow human beings.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

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